INTERVIEW: BOEM's Tommy Beaudreau

Tommy Beaudreau, the man in charge of implementing America’s offshore wind programme, talks about the industry's future

What is driving demand for offshore wind energy in the US? There is demand around trying to find clean energy resources, especially along the east coast. Unlike the west, you don’t have huge swathes of land to stand up a solar or wind project. You have to look offshore. I think that’s what is underlying our process.

That’s part of the reason why it’s so important for us to be, to the maximum extent possible, synced up with the states. They have goals for clean energy and for trying to address the causes of climate change.

What are your strongest arguments to encourage Europeans to invest in US offshore? Part of what I have been talking about with the Europeans is I think they recognise the significance of the market here and the wind potential offshore. There is a lot of know-how there — engineering and technical, as well as a wealth of scientific information about potential environmental effects that we can and should benefit from. That’s what I see as the upside.

We always want to be leaders, that’s in the American character. There definitely are pioneers in this industry in the US. But we also have the benefit of looking to Europe for what’s already been accomplished and building from that so we don’t have to do it all from scratch ourselves.

What do you see as the main positive for the US offshore wind industry over the next two years?  Demonstrating, as we have, through the first two commercial competitive lease sales (off of Massachusetts-Rhode Island and Virginia) that this industry in the US is real. That it has the capital, backing and financing to invest in leases. There is a lot we can point to. There’s momentum and confidence here. But there are, and this is natural, some challenges going forward as well.

What are the main challenges? The question now turns from whether there will be leasing to standing up generation facilities and getting steel in the water. The conversation is now about how we are going to go about securing financing and how do we address issues like supply chain. That’s encouraging and where we want the conversation to be.

How do we actually take the regulatory process out of it, and as an industry and a business get these facilities built and plugged into the grid? Financing is part of that. What sort of confidence and additional work needs to be done around investment and capital investment?

How do we get the know-how to bear on actual construction of facilities offshore? The encouraging part of all that is that is what folks are really focused on at this moment in time.

How important is the investment tax credit for offshore wind development? Very important. It’s been proven effective and good policy onshore. The same rationale applies to offshore. It’s a great investment. The industry can stand up and demonstrate that.

What is your target time frame to permit an offshore wind farm? Under our regulations, once you get a lease you have [five years] in which to decide a site assessment, and get a construction and operations plan to us.

What is the importance of the upcoming Department of Energy (DOE) funding award in May for three projects to demonstrate advanced wind technology? The DOE programme and the investments it is making in innovative technology have huge potential implications for renewable energy offshore. Floating wind, in particular, is extremely exciting.

Tommy Beaudreau is the first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency of the US Department of the Interior